A Lonely Holiday
A couple of years ago, a younger cousin of mine did a project through his youth group where he had to pretend that he was homeless. For 24 hours he lived on the streets of Washington, D.C. without any food, money, warm clothes, a place to sleep, or family and friends. The purpose of the experiment was to see what it would truly be like to survive as a homeless person. When he recounted the experience, he said that the most difficult part wasn’t the lack of food, a place to sleep or any extra clothes. Instead, the most difficult part was the lack of acknowledgement from people passing by during those hours. As a homeless person, people did not look him in the eye or say hello as they walked by him. He would talk to them, but he would simply be ignored. The lack of human connection brought on a devastating loneliness.
With the holidays right around the corner, there is a good chance that any loneliness we’re experiencing will hit us harder and be felt on a greater scale. If you are reading this article, chances are that you are better off than someone living on the streets. My point in mentioning that story is to call attention to how a lot of us take for granted the amount of human connection that we actually receive on a daily basis. And how tremendously important this connection is to our existence and in feeling good.
Loneliness has the ability to make us feel depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, or a mix of those things. It can be something we feel mildly on a day-to-day basis for a multitude of reasons such as being single, consumed with work, or little social life. Loneliness can be more acute, resulting from a trauma like the recent passing of a loved one, a breakup, moving, or starting a new job. Losses and life transitions can be especially difficult during this time of the year. To completely rid ourselves of these feelings might be somewhat unrealistic. My hope is that the suggestions below will make loneliness a little more tolerable for you as you ring in the New Year.
5 tips to beat loneliness:
1. Look for the exceptions in your day. For many of us, it’s easy to become a victim of all-or-nothing thinking, especially when feeling down or overwhelmed. It can be as if a dark cloud is hanging over everything we see, making it difficult to feel hopeful. We begin to overlook the small, yet positive and meaningful moments. By noticing these small moments, it makes a positive difference in our perspectives and in our mood.
Looking for the exception to loneliness means that we take notice of the times when loneliness it not occurring; times when we feel some kind of human connection. These might not be so obvious, but rather could be moments as simple as eye contact with a stranger or being the recipient of someone’s random act of friendliness. Think, a grocery store clerk making an observation that the cookies that you bought are also his favorite, or a coworker sharing pictures of her grandkids with you during your lunch break. We might think we feel lonely because we do not have lots of friends, or because we are single. However, human connection and acknowledgement in any form can change that for us if we just acknowledge it.
2. Lean into the feelings through journaling or letter writing. I like to tell my clients that instead of avoiding being depressed, do the opposite and lean into the feeling. You can do this by journaling or writing a letter to the person you’ve been missing. You might be thinking, “What good is that going to do? My father passed away; he can’t read it.” Or, “I’m not planning on getting back together with my wife, so why would I write her a letter?”
The point is not to send the letter or share the journal entry. Rather to reflect on and begin to process your feelings related to the loneliness or loss. It makes sense, when we are feeling sad or anxious, to want to avoid what’s really bothering us. But that typically doesn’t make it go away, it just festers beneath the surface and adds to difficult feelings.
Because of our humanness, we have the ability to experience an array of emotions. Feeling lonely, depressed or anxious is just one end of the spectrum. When we go through periods of feeling bad, we can actually grow the most. Oftentimes, we can feel out of control when there is a loss. Purposefully setting aside time to lean into the feelings can provide us with a greater sense of control over our circumstances. This is because it’s on our terms and within our planned timeframe. Something to note however, is that while journaling is a good technique for processing feelings it is also beneficial (and depending on circumstances, sometime recommended) to talk with a professional who can provide feedback and added support.
3. Track your progress. Just like with any goal we are working towards, signs of improvement provide us with hope, and make us feel better. If you’re starting to become more conscious of your feelings by journaling, another step would be to track your progress. To do this, start by taking what we call a baseline measure to note where you are currently. From there, mark where you are as you go along.
For example, the first day you begin to journal, you might be feeling really down, so you say, “I’m managing my feelings of loneliness or depression at a 1 out of 10 (where 1 is managing the worst and 10 is managing the best).” Then three days later, you might check in with yourself again and say, “That movie I watched the other night boosted by spirits. I’m feeling like I’m managing at a 2 or a 3 today.”
Sometimes there is a setback, after a period of doing better, so don’t worry, this is normal. Consistency takes time. Pay attention to where you are and take note of any progress that you’re making. Another layer to this is to keep track of what is causing the progression or setback. This way, you can recreate scenarios that lead to positive progress and conversely, avoid scenarios that get in your way.
4. Be open to accepting invitations. I’ll sometimes hear a person say they don’t have any friends or anything to do, and the next minute I’ll see them turning down an invitation. It’s normal to feel hesitant or uncomfortable when invited to a social activity. This can be especially true if you haven’t been feeling yourself. Part of overcoming loneliness requires being open to opportunities to heal. This is similar to noting exceptions to the problem and being more conscious of what is going on around you. There’s a possibility of being involved when we accept an invitation to something new. Be it meeting someone new, relating to someone through a shared interest or story, or just breaking out of the monotony of what you have been doing lately, there is a possibility to feel different—possibly better.
5. Do guided meditations. Meditation requires stillness of the mind which doesn’t always sound appealing or easy. Sometimes when we experience loss or loneliness it’s difficult to break the cycle or repetitive thoughts. We can ruminate about what went wrong, or what we could have done differently. Sometimes the thoughts are racing and it’s hard to even pinpoint what we are thinking about entirely. I like suggesting that my clients try guided mediations (which are easily found online for free) because they can be helpful in getting one to refocus their thinking to more positive, encouraging, self-nurturing thoughts. Such as the one below:
Guided meditation doesn’t have to be an elaborate ceremony or take a lot of time out of your jam-packed day. It can be done in as little as five-ten minutes, and though that might not seem like much, you may be surprised at how beneficial meditation can be. The key is taking time from the frenzy of daily life and allowing yourself to focus on silence and stillness.
Kristina Fecik is a therapist at The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale and is an expert in depression, anxiety and relationships. Call 954-488-2933 x 2 or email today if this blog post resonated with you to discuss how her services can help you.
Copyright © 2018 & 2019 Kristina Fecik, LMFT